About 200 Pakistani-American and other American investors met at Invest in Pakistan Summit in Silicon Valley on October 3, 2019 at San Jose Sheraton. It was hosted by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC. One of the sessions I found interesting dealt with the opportunities presented to Pakistan by US-China technology war sparked by US President Trump's actions against Chinese technology giants Huawei and ZTE. In response to the US threat to restrict access to American core technology, China is aiming to develop and produce 40% of the semiconductors it uses by 2020 and 70% by 2025, according to Washington-based CSIS report. It is estimated that China needs about 500,000 engineers to achieve this goal. Can Pakistan, a reliable Chinese ally, train and provide some of these engineers?
US-China Tech War:
The technology war between the United States and China has been going on with the roll-out of the 5G next generation broadband wireless technology. China has developed its 5G technology in an attempt to become independent of the technology developed and controlled by companies in the United States and other western nations. US has been actively trying to stop adoption of Chinese company Huawei's 5G technology in Europe, East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. So far, the US has had limited success while China's Huawei is continuing to win customers around the world.
Tech Supply Chain Bifurcation:
President Trump has also attempted to block Chinese companies' access to semiconductor components and software developed and sold by US companies. Both Huawei and ZTE have been riding a roller coaster with President Trump's daily tweets on this issue. It has affected reliable access to communication chips, Android operating systems and Google apps store.
The net result of it is that the Chinese have lost faith in US companies' reliability. They are now seeking to to create their own supply chain free of companies from US and its close allies in Europe, East Asia and elsewhere.
China is currently a net importer of technology. The country wants to move “up the value chain” from final product assembly using imported components to creating advanced technology in China itself, but imports of chips and technology will be the norm for many years to come, according to a report by James Lewis of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) based in Washington DC.
As of now, only 16% of the semiconductors used in China are produced domestically, and only half of these are made by Chinese firms. It is dependent on foreign suppliers for advanced chips. China aims to produce 40% of the semiconductors it uses by 2020 and 70% by 2025, according to the CSIS report.
Opportunity For Pakistan:
China will need 500,000 engineers trained in chip development over the next 5 years to meet its goal of producing 70% of semiconductors within the country, according to Pakistani-American entrepreneur Dr. Naveed Sherwani who presented at the Invest in Pakistan Summit in Silicon Valley.
Naveed and his wife Sabahat Rafiq see this as an opportunity to train a significant number Pakistani engineers in semiconductor chip development to meet China's needs. This will help develop Pakistan's tech-oriented human capital and open up the possibility for Pakistan to build its own chip design and development industry.
Sabahat said she is already training some engineers at an institute in Lahore for this purpose. She is hoping to expand it to accommodate more trainees in near future.
Naveed currently heads SiFive, a Silicon Valley startup specializing in RISC V microprocessor cores for customized systems on chip (SoC) development. RISC V is an open source chip architecture developed at UC Berkeley. It is the hardware equivalent of open source Linux OS software. Naveed is promoting SiFive in both China and Pakistan for "low-power embedded microcontrollers (as small as 13.5k gates) to multi-core applications processors".
Naveed talked about the availability of cloud-based advanced chip design tools that Pakistani chip designers can take advantage of. Among the top vendors offering such tools is Amazon Web Services (AWS).
AWS says it "offers a secure, agile, and scalable platform with a comprehensive set of services and solutions for high performance design, verification, and smart manufacturing, supporting electronic design automation (EDA) and rapid semiconductor innovation in the cloud. Semiconductor companies, including fabless and integrated device manufacturers, and their IP and foundry partners can benefit from the massive scale of AWS infrastructure to design next gen connected products".
Here's how AWS describes its cloud-based chip design tools offering:
"Semiconductor design simulation, verification, lithography, metrology, yield analysis, and many other workloads benefit from the scalability and performance of the AWS Cloud. For example, compute performance for these applications is enhanced by latest generation EC2 instance types, including the z1d. Run more jobs per core with z1d, the fastest single thread performance of any cloud instance delivering 4GHz sustained CPU, 16 GiB RAM per core, and local NVMe storage. Our virtually unlimited cloud storage and high performance computing (HPC) capability enable you to innovate faster, rapidly design and verify new products, and scale seamlessly to meet increasing demand".
US-China technology war has recently been triggered by US President Trump's actions against Chinese technology giants Huawei and ZTE. In response to the US threat to restrict access to American core technology, China is aiming to develop and produce 40% of the semiconductors it uses by 2020 and 70% by 2025, according to the CSIS report. China needs about 500,000 engineers to achieve this goal. Can Pakistan, a reliable ally, train and provide some of these engineers? Pakistani-American entrepreneur Dr. Naveed Sherwani and his wife Sabahat Rafiq believe the answer is an emphatic Yes. This will help develop Pakistan's tech-oriented human capital and open up the possibility for Pakistan to build its own chip design and development industry.